Old people tend to think about dying, at least when they get sick or feel negative about politics or the Dallas Cowboys. However, discussing dying is not a popular topic.
We found that out recently when we were going through our papers to make sure that “everything was in order” and that we “wouldn’t be a burden” to our children when we departed this not-so-fair earth.
We thought it would therefore be prudent to discuss certain things about our death wishes with our daughter and son-in-law. We have specified our daughter Karol as executor of our will and final wishes, so we wanted to bring them up to date. We had mentioned that sometime when they stopped by we would like to chat about a few things about our “final” days on earth.
They stopped stopping by and there was no response from them for several weeks, but they are busy people and we thought they hadn’t read our email yet. So we sent them another email about several things that were on our mind: Did they think giving one’s body to medical science was OK? After all, Mike is a doctor and would have some observations or reservations on the topic. What would they think of cremation? Where to scatter the ashes? Or, would if be wise or prudent to have burial plots?
You get the picture: minor, trivial, draconian questions of the sort you would discuss at a mausoleum after a favorite uncle had died, but not at the local coffee shop or around the dinner table.
After several weeks of no response we were at their house almost alone (one is never entirely alone there) so Joice broached the subject: “We have been wanting to talk to you about some end-of-life matters. ”Mike stirred slightly from his position of rest; Karol’s eyes rolled and I could see that the subject was not to their immediate interest or enjoyment. Joice, not unaware of their discomfort, but eager for information, continued: “What do you think of donating my body to science? They might really be interested because of my cancer.” Mike’s upper lip twitched slightly as if to say “They won’t be interested in anything except getting practice with their scalpels.” Joice continued, “A man came to the Cowan center and explained it all—they will even cremate what’s left of the body.”
Karol spoke up, somewhat bemused: “An ideal place, the Cowan Center, with all the old people there.” “But it is cheap,” Joice continued, “No burial expenses.” Mike woke up a bit: “Still thinking of doing it the cheapest way?”
I could see that the conversation was not headed in the way we had intended. Hoping to be helpful, I said “Missionaries are always looking for the least expensive (I didn’t say ‘cheapest’) way to get things done. What about cremation, is that OK with you?”
Mike had gone back to sleep and Karol was examining the contents of a magazine while she held her dog Pretzel and rubbed his ears. Clearly our topic was not getting the intense family interaction that we had expected.
We left it at that. Later Joice said to me, “We will do whatever we want.” The problem is we aren’t sure what we want.
However, after our brief encounter with our family about death and dying there are a number of conclusions I have reached:
- It doesn’t matter how they dispose of your body because you won’t know anyway
- It doesn’t matter what it costs because you won’t be paying for it
- The matter of ashes has no lasting substance
- Some things, like death and dying, are not appropriate topics, especially after a good meal
- Funeral arrangements are not final arrangements
We won’t deliberately bring it up again. There may be some grand accident on I-35 that would make the subject relevant or Mike may have some patient who reacts in some way that will provide some insight on how he feels, so we will be ready. Our mental notebooks will be open and we will be alert.
Pretzel, the dog, may die before us. If he does, we will see how the body is disposed of and what is in his will. That may give us some clues to add to our own final wishes.